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100 years of RHS Rhododendron, Camellia & Magnolia Group

This year, Millais Nurseries' display celebrates the centenary of the Rhododendron Society, now known as the RHS Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group (RCMG) which held its first AGM at Chelsea Flower Show in May 1916. David Millais, owner of Millais Nurseries, is the Chairman of the RCMG and the great nephew of JG Millais, one of the three founder members of the Rhododendron Society. Uncle ‘Johnny' wrote the coveted books ‘Rhododendron' Series 1 (1917) and Series 2 (1924) cataloguing the best rhododendrons at that time. It is the main point of reference for those restoring or recreating historic gardens today, and some of his recommendations are still popular and have stood the test of time. Johnny's career took him into the Royal Navy at the outbreak of WW1 where he joined the secret service and was involved in counter-espionage. He was a very accomplished artist, ornithologist and travel writer. But his passion was Rhododendrons! This passion has continued through the family and now David Millais is one of the leading experts on Rhododendrons in the world.

The Millais Nurseries exhibit features taller rhododendrons that might have been popular 100 years ago on one side of a meandering woodland path, with dwarf and compact plants that are more suitable for today's smaller gardens on the other side. Some of the RCMG Top 100 Rhododendrons are also on the exhibit – in particular R. yakushimanum ‘Koichiro Wada', voted No. 1 by RCMG members. The Millais team have successfully demonstrated how versatile and interesting rhododendrons and azaleas can be in today's modern gardens, with the use of great form, colour and scent. They are hoping to secure their fifth consecutive RHS Gold medal. They are very proactive with their breeding programme and are constantly searching for the choicest new varieties as well as conserving and propagating older varieties.

There are currently 1,445 rhododendrons listed on the Plant Heritage ‘critical' list, in danger of being lost forever. Millais Nurseries, in partnership with the RCMG, play a significant role in helping to find and propagate old varieties and save them from extinction. They are also passionate about the environment and use many organic products to keep the plants healthy, such as compost tea that they brew fresh every 14 days, iron rich seaweed, citrus seed oil, garlic barriers, beneficial microbes and fungi and a range of natural plant tonics, bio-stimulants and plant invigorators. David is rigorous with plant selection and selects varieties to propagate that he knows will grow well in a garden situation.

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This story was published on: 27/05/2016

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